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Ottilie A. Liljencrantz’s ‘The Viking Adventures’: Volume 2

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Ottilie A. Liljencrantz’s ‘The Viking Adventures’: Volume 2
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Author(s): Ottilie A. Liljencrantz
Date Published: 2014/12
Page Count: 324
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-386-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-385-8

High adventure among the Norsemen in a special two volume set

Historical adventure fiction is so popular today that only readers of a certain vintage can remember the time (not so long past) that it had all but disappeared from the catalogues of publishers. Tales of Romans, knights, warriors and soldiers of every nation and period now abound, but the current trend is but a return to a literary genre that has been always had its enthusiasts and indeed its specialist authors. The author of this two volume collection of Viking adventures, Ottilie Liljencrantz, was an American but—as her name suggests—of Scandinavian origins, who had an authentic feel for her subject by both sensibility and an intimate knowledge of the period in which her stories are set. While that vision might not always square with that of contemporary authors on the Viking age, in her time Liljencrantz’s books were very keenly anticipated. Indeed, one of them was filmed during the 1930s. These fabulous tales of the Norsemen at the time when they braved the wide Atlantic to discover a new continent have been collected into two substantial Leonaur volumes for readers to own and enjoy.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

From the camp behind them swelled a din of Skraelling yells answered by Norse battle-cries, enforced at regular intervals by the hoarse barking of the leaders.
Njal cried shrilly: “That is the way in which Skraellings fight! These are trolls! Let us get loose from their net and turn back.”
Only Alrek’s uplifted spear stayed the rush. “I think you will find my weapon sharp if you do,” he warned. “Whether they be men or trolls, we must take heart as we can and hold them from the gates. I urge you all to grip your swords and manfully hold your ground. They can not do you harm while you are under cover.”
But it was not their bodies that they were afraid with, but their minds which had raised up spectres. The sunlit space seemed all at once a cloak for shapes of horror. Dreading with every breath that the cloak would be drawn aside, their eyes shrank from what it might reveal as their flesh would not have shrunk from knives. They spoke as with one voice:
“This is jugglery and trickery only! We will go back where men fight against men!”
“You will not,” spoke Alrek the Chief between his teeth. But even as he said it, he saw the hopelessness of expecting to hold them quiet, and made his last move. Throwing aside his spear he leaped out in front of them, brandishing his sword. “If you must move—move forward!” he cried. “You are nithings unless you follow my fate!”
Even then it is not certain that they would have obeyed if Brand had not redeemed much by promptly advancing to his chiefs side.
“I follow!” he shouted; and Erlend and Gard were only a step behind him.
At that, the rest turned like sheep and came after, dodging from cover to cover, clambering, stumbling, ducking, jumping, lashing their courage with a fury of yelling.
Before the cold stillness had chilled them again, they saw the foe. Rising from behind boulders, slipping around trees, gliding through bushes, came creatures with gaudy-coloured bodies naked as earthworms, and bristling black heads feathered like monstrous birds; so like and yet so hideously unlike the Skraellings, that Gard cried “Forest devils!” and the band turned with one impulse for flight. But behind them, across the ground they believed they had cleared, in the space between them and the gates, stretched another line. Out of their frenzy of fear, sprang a frenzy of hate; and they leaped upon the creatures with drawn swords and the others met them, brandishing stone hatchets.
For a time it was a wild game of dodging, with death as a penalty for awkwardness. Whether they were men or demons, the hatchet-bearers showed a dread of steel which kept them hovering beyond arm’s reach whenever they were not darting at an opening. But at last the hungry swords tasted the flesh they craved, and their wielders’ shouts of triumph stirred the rest to exulting excitement.
“We will wipe them out like flies!” Alrek cried.
Even as the words left his lips, he made a startling discovery. Laying low the figure in front of him, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure that there was no one behind him; and turned back to find a man standing on the very spot that he had cleared. Striking him down, he whirled to see another hideous shape in the place that—a breath before—he had made empty.
At the same instant, Brand cried wildly: “It seems to me that they must rise from the dead since no matter how many one kills, there is always the same number confronting him.”
Into Alrek’s throat came the sense of choking which had seized him in the tree-top when he beheld that dark tide rolling in upon the land. Something seemed to mock in his ear: “It will be like killing the flies of the air one by one!” Then blotting out this came the wonder that Brand’s voice should seem so far away; and he risked a glance around the grove, and his heart stood still.
In their mad charge, the Champions had broken their line; until now no two fought shoulder to shoulder but each stood alone, his back against a tree or a rock, a circle of hatchet-men around him. Even while their chief looked, three Champions were tempted into making dashes which carried them still wider apart. It would not be long before they would be lost to one another’s sight, and the swarms would close in around them—He opened his mouth to send forth a frantic recall.
But the fiend-cunning of the black eyes watching him seemed to read his purpose on his lips. Suddenly the shapes around him raised an unearthly howl, which those on all sides caught up and kept up until the din was like a wall through which no sound could come or go.
Alrek’s hands continued to fight from instinct, but his brain became numb. The horror long hovering over him settled lead-like upon him.
“They are trolls!” he told himself; and his strength began to ooze out of him in icy droops.
He did not turn his head when above the din rose a roar even more appalling than the yells. When the creatures around him dropped their weapons to fly frantically this way and that, he remained standing where they had left him, plucking at an arrow which had pierced his arm below his mail. Gazing wonderingly, he saw a huge milk-white bull with mouth afoam and eyes like red flame come snorting out of the thicket, pausing now to paw up the earth before him, now to throw back his horned head with a terrific bellow.
Then, in a flash, his wits came back to him. Memory reminded him that his own lips had bidden Olaf drive the animal from the pasture for their re-enforcement; and sense told him that—even as he had hoped it might happen—the hatchet-bearers had taken the apparition to be the white man’s god, come to his people’s aid. Leaning back against the tree, he began to shake with laughter which was half weeping.
It seemed to little Olaf the Fair that there was something peculiar about the bearing of all the Champions, when a while later he met them back near the gates. Their greetings came in voices of unsteady shrillness, and their eyes were strangely bright. He said, pouting:
“I do not know whether you mean that the fight went against you or that you got the victory, but I warn you that I shall dislike it if you upbraid me for fetching the bull there so soon. I have got scolded enough by the men in camp. It appears that they spent the first part of the battle in running away from arrows, and they had only just got to work with their swords when I came through with the Bellower and sent the Skraellings flying to their boats. I thought the Icelanders would have thrashed me. I shall not take it well if you also find fault—”
Their shaking high-pitched laughter drowned his voice.
“We will try to excuse you,” Alrek said in a drawl that was still rather unsteady; whereat there was another outburst; and they swept clamouring shrilly through the gate.
Inside the wall it looked at the first glance like a trading day, with shining-shirted groups scattered everywhere across the green, each man flourishing some kind of weapon while he talked at the top of his great lungs. But at a second glance the resemblance was less, for no fair-time mood was in the mien of Karlsefne and his chiefs where they stood under the council-tree, wiping the paste of sweat and blood from their faces; and here and there men were writhing on the earth while the sharp knives of comrades cut arrow-heads out of their flesh. And suddenly the likeness ceased altogether, as four men came through the bayward gate, each pair carrying between them the body of a dead Icelander. Silence touched each group the four passed; and through the hush, Karlsefne’s voice clanged out like a bell, vibrating with wrath: